Joseph N. Esposito, lighthouse historian and preservationist and for more than nine years the caretaker of New York’s Staten Island Lighthouse, was recognized on April 18, 2001 by the Coast Guard in a citation awarded for meritorious service. Esposito had to step down from the volunteer position due to medical problems. Reflecting on the end of his lighthouse duties, Esposito says, “I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend.”
The Certificate of Merit from Rear Admiral Richard E. Bennis, U.S. Coast Guard Activities, New York, stated that the 62-year-old Esposito’s “hard work on this proud remnant of Staten Island and Coast Guard history is sincerely appreciated...” and goes on to say that Esposito has “upheld the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”
Esposito returns the compliment, saying, “The Coast Guard was good to me. They would always send me whatever I needed to help out with this light. They would always say that I was part of the team. That made me feel good.”
Esposito is a master electrician, carpenter and mason by trade. Back in 1992 after major Coast Guard budget cuts, he asked about the possibility of becoming the caretaker of the lighthouse. Esposito submitted his resumé and soon had the keys to the tower. “He’s been wonderful,” Rear Admiral Bennis told the New York Times. “We were lean and mean and we needed someone to take care of the place.”
During his years as caretaker Esposito did everything from cutting the small patch of grass around the tower to explaining the station’s history to visitors, as well as making sure the light was operating 24 hours a day. On the rare occasions that the light went out, residents of Lighthouse Hill would quickly let Esposito know and he would fix whatever needed fixing.
The handsome buff-colored 90-foot Staten Island tower was designated a New York City Landmark in 1968 and is one of the last brick lighthouses built in the United States. Esposito told the New York Times, “I’m gonna miss her. She’s the only one like it in the world.” Staten Island Light serves as a rear range light with the West Bank Lighthouse, guiding vessels into the bay. The lighthouse is in good condition inside and out, and Esposito says, “Every time I stepped in it, I was going back in time to 1912.”
For many years Joe Esposito has also constructed some of the most detailed lighthouse replicas in existence. He says he makes the models “so I can see the light when I can’t really be there.” In 1992 he spent three months completing a three-foot seven-inch model of Staten Island Lighthouse, and he recently donated the model to Staten Island’s National Lighthouse Museum, still in the formative stages.
It isn’t clear whether or not the Coast Guard will designate a new caretaker for Staten Island Lighthouse or simply do the work themselves. What is clear is that Joe Esposito’s name will long remain tied to this important piece of New York and American lighthouse history. He has “kept a good light” in the best tradition of the Coast Guard.
This story appeared in the
August 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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